Sam Vasquez of Houston may have become the first fighter to die from injuries sustained in mixed martial arts competition in North America.
A report by The Fight Network cited the Harris County (Texas) medical examiner's office confirming Vasquez's death at 8:15 p.m. Friday. The cause of death was not released.
Vasquez had been battling for his life since taking a hard right to the chin from 21-year old Vince Libardi on Oct. 20 during a Renegades Extreme Fighting show at the Toyota Center in Houston. The blow knocked Vasquez out and he was rushed to St. Joseph Medical Center, where he stayed until moving to hospice care on Monday.
The 35-year-old Vasquez was competing in the featherweight division (145 pound weight class) in the third match of a 12-match card promoted by Saul Soliz, the longtime boxing coach of Ultimate Fighting Championship superstar Tito Ortiz. The show was overseen by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. Calls to the department on Sunday were not immediately returned.
After taking a flurry of punches from Libardi, Vasquez collapsed in the ring and the fight was waved off at 2:50 of the third round. Emergency medical technicians worked on him in the ring for several minutes until he suffered what appeared to be a seizure and was rushed to the hospital.
Vasquez's condition worsened from there. On Nov. 4, two weeks after being admitted, he underwent the first of two surgeries to relieve the pressure of a large clot in his brain, then had a massive stroke on Nov. 9 and was placed in a medically induced coma.
Vasquez, who had a seven-year-old son, came into the match with a 1-1 record, and had not fought in 13 months. Libardi, 14 years Vasquez's junior, entered the match with seven pro fights and 10 rounds of action over three fights in the time since Vasquez had last fought in Sept. 2006.
"There was nothing out of the ordinary," Paul Erickson, who was at ringside taking photos, said in an interview with The Fight Network. "They scrambled and hit the cage. Sammy stood up and looked a little wobbly. Then he went down and the referee called the doctor in. It didn't seem like anything was out of the ordinary. Sammy was winded and looked exhausted, but he wasn't unconscious when they carried him out. Everyone was puzzled at the time because no one could tell when or where he was injured."
MMA had until recently been considered highly controversial, and a group of critics led by Sen. John McCain caused it to be banned in several states in the mid-to-late 1990s and pressured cable companies to not air its pay-per-view events.
In the past two-and-a-half years, though, the sport exploded in popularity due to television exposure of UFC, the sport's major league franchise. UFC's success has spawned hundreds of smaller promotions around North America with many states now holding more MMA events than boxing events.
Mixed martial arts officials and fans have long noted that there had never been a death in a sanctioned MMA match, a statistic no other combat sport could claim.
The only confirmed death prior to government oversight came when 31-year-old Douglas Dedge of Chipley, Fla. passed away on March 18, 1998, from severe brain injuries suffered in a match two days earlier at a non-sanctioned event called World Super Challenge in Kiev, Ukraine. Dedge had passed out in a training session leading up to the fight, but went through with the match anyway.